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A memorable trip to Japan
Diary of a woman from Singapore   ------   
By Carol Tan

Picture of soba noodles along with shrimp tempuraAs I embarked on my second trip (my first trip in Fall was to attend a Bon Jovi concert) to Japan within half a year, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. For one, this time around, I was traveling with a whole group of 30 other Singaporeans for a leisure trip in an organized tour. Also, after my experience with a lesser known Japanese city, Fukuoka, the "free and easy" way, the thought of moving on to two metropolitan cities: Tokyo and Osaka and the saturated tourist spots like Mount Fuji did not sound as appealing. After all, what drew me back to Japan was the uncluttered, friendly feel as exuded by Fukuoka during my visit in July. This, I did not think Tokyo and Osaka could provide.

True enough, Tokyo and Osaka did give me very different kinds of memories. Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto was silent and mystical, Mount Fuji was spectacular beyond words and Disneyland was pure heaven but personally, the highlight of my trip came when I broke away from the group momentarily in Tokyo. I met up with two friends of mine, Yutaka Kohashi and Kumiko Sasaki, at the lobby of Sunshine City Prince. Frankly, I would go to Japan solely to meet my many kind friends. And "kind" is an understatement for these two great people.

Photo of a Buddhist monk at a shrine in Kyoto.According to Yutaka, he had traveled four hours from his dormitory in Chubu University to meet me and subsequently four hours back. Having spent my life in tiny Singapore, to spend four hours on a single trip is quite a bit of time! Believe me when I say my surprise struck a huge contrast with his nonchalance about this effort. It was quite funny really. At dinner, my sister and I were kept entertained by his gestures and desperate attempts at trying to get his words across. I tried my best to help by nodding furiously and completing his sentences. In the end, he yanked out some paper from his notebook and we started drawing instead. Stick figures and lots of arrows. I should have taken them back so I can put them in my travel scrapbook. The most memorable part came when he told us how he was going to say "I love you" to this girl he likes on Christmas eve and  the complex issue that surrounds this particular girl and this other guy she likes but who doesn't like her. Well, all these took place as we struggled to keep his photos away from Japanese curry gravy in metal goblets. I'm missing the starchy Japanese rice already. I hope he kept the teddy bear I gave him well.

When I returned to my room after dinner, I realized there was a message waiting for me at the reception. It turned out that I had a phone call from Kumi while I was away! I hurriedly called her and managed to arrange for a meeting the next evening. It was great to see Kumi again, particularly in a hotel lobby. It brought back good memories of our chance meeting at the Fukuoka Hyatt lobby back in July, how we saw Hugh MacDonald and Jon Bon Jovi and talked endlessly about our passion for Bon Jovi and her adventures with Richie Sambora and the band. Upon seeing me, she stuffed a thousand and one things into my arms, including two precious framed photos of Jon Bon Jovi, some calendars featuring puppies and a pretty box of confectionery. In turn, I gave her a gray silk scarf and a black lipstick holder with "Singapore" embroidered in pink. As I had to rejoin the group for dinner, we just stood around to admire her extensive photo collection of the band. I promised her I would return to Tokyo soon and we both agreed to visit Shinjuku, Harajuku and that little restaurant near Disneyland to have wine together. Initially, she was rather hesitant possibly because the legal drinking age in Japan is 21 but when I told her I'm well past the mark in Singapore, she was so enthusiastic! It was funny. Well, looks like I had my next date planned.

I was surprised further as I prepared to leave the hotel for the airport the next morning. I received a note from the reception with a phone-in message from Kumi saying to take care. My trip couldn't have ended on a better note. What with thoughtful friends and beautiful country could I ask for?

Of course, there were many more great encounters in my one-week vacation. I can safely say that going to Japan has become more like a pilgrimage. I don't worship their culture or anything but there is so much to discover that I feel it absolutely necessary to plan a visit once in a while to get away from all the rude behavior and ugly mannerisms that is becoming of many of my countrymen. It is universally acknowledged that Japanese people are some of the most polite and welcoming around. Here's a run down on my adventures in chronological order.

Vacation in Tokyo, Osaka - continued

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